Family law: Court affirms right to procreate in embryo case

When a couple in Missouri chooses to end their romantic relationship, there are often multiple decisions to make. However, when state laws have not caught up with current medical technology, courts are often asked to weigh in on some difficult family law matters, such as who receives custody of embryos the couple stored together. For example, an appeals court in another state has recently ruled that a woman’s right to procreate trumps her ex-husband’s desire not to.

The case involved a woman who discovered she had breast cancer. After her doctor advised her that she likely would be unable to have children after chemotherapy, she asked her then-boyfriend to donate sperm to fertilize eggs that could be used after she completed cancer treatment. The couple later married and divorced.

During divorce proceedings, the man asked the court to prevent the woman from conceiving with the embryos, and the court ruled that they must be donated to a third party. The woman appealed that ruling, and an appeals court recently ruled in her favor. One judge noted that the reason behind the decision to create the embryos was important; they were created, she wrote, to preserve the woman’s fertility, not necessarily with the intention that the pair would co-parent together. The judge acknowledged that the man could be financially responsible for a child born from the embryos.

The dissenting judge argued that the couple signed an agreement that stated the embryos would not be used without the consent of both parties. She noted that the court’s ruling violates the contract. Partially as a result of this case, Arizona law now indicates that embryos in a case such as this will go to “the parent who will allow a child to be born,” but the other parent will have no financial obligation to the child. Because this law was not in place during the original decision, it is not applicable in this case. The man has the option of appealing to the Arizona Supreme Court.

Unfortunately, matters related to family law in Missouri and other states are often complicated. Those going through a divorce or concerned about the fate of embryos, for example, often want an attorney with experience with state law on their side. With such a professional, most people feel better informed about their options, including the possibility of appealing a decision.

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